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Don't Cave In to Microsoft

April 12, 1998

There are only five weeks left until May 15, when the software kings of Microsoft plan to release their latest operating system, Windows 98. There's no time for the company to dither if it intends to offer two versions: one with Microsoft's Internet browser and preferred Web sites and one without them, as the Justice Department's antitrust division has demanded.

Some computer makers would rather install a browser from another company; many computer users prefer Netscape, Microsoft's only major browser competitor. Manufacturers and consumers alike ought to have the choice. Microsoft has resisted, arguing that because most computer users are also Internet users, it would be absurd to release an operating system that doesn't fully integrate a Web browser. Microsoft's argument has always been arrogant for presuming to know how people want to use their computers.

Confidential Microsoft documents obtained by The Times last week reveal that the company's disdain for genuine public opinion runs deeper than previously thought. The documents show that the company secretly planned a massive media campaign of solicited letters to the editor, testimonials from local business leaders and other planted articles to create the appearance of a groundswell of public support for Microsoft.

This is not just an issue for heavy-duty Web surfers. In fact, the operating systems that Microsoft designs, which now run more than 90% of the world's computers, influence computer use in ways that are not instantly apparent. These systems can make certain programs appear on a computer's start-up screen and decide which ones will run most quickly. And last week, Microsoft purchased technology owned by Firefly Network Inc. that, if integrated as expected into Microsoft's Web browser, will provide commercial Web sites a new sophistication in learning and sharing visitors' personal preferences.

The Justice Department should not only stand firm on the Web browser but also ensure that Microsoft allows choices that consumers may not have thought of, like which programs they want to run most quickly.

In an advertising campaign it launched last week, Microsoft says "innovating for . . . customers" is its highest priority. But too many of these innovations are being imposed on customers, not offered to them.

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